January 30, 2009
A unique child care center and support group for Philadelphia families coping with HIV/AIDS may face closure soon, as funding sources for such care dry up. The St. Mary's Family Respite Center has served more than 450 families since it opened 15 years ago, said Sandra Thompson, its executive director.
"Right now we are living month-to-month," Thompson said. "We do have enough money to provide services through the month of January, but beyond that it's unclear." "For the staff here, it's not so much about the impact on us if we close, it's the impact that it will have on the families," she said. "Because nobody else is providing this service, they wouldn't have it anywhere else."
St. Mary's provides each family with day care for infants and children from ages five months to five years for one day each week. Up to 10 children each day can receive breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and participate in structured learning activities to prepare them for full-time day care or kindergarten. While the children are being cared for, parents and caregivers can run errands, seek jobs, and take care of medical issues. The facility also hosts a support group for the families twice a month. Recent funding losses have required St. Mary's to cut staff and transportation services to ferry clients' children to the agency.
"The clients being served by St. Mary's are the poorest of the poor -- there's really no other way to put it," said Kevin Burns, executive director of the city's largest nonprofit AIDS service organization, ActionAIDS. "St. Mary's has always gone above and beyond what their mission is, and it's a sad commentary that places like those are being cut, because they are really needed."
For more information, visit www.stmarysrespite.org.